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Genesis Chapter 50:1-26 - Death of A Saint - Part 1
At the end of most Hollywood movies the heroes typically ride off into the sunset. At the end of Biblical stories the heroes die. The difference is not incidental. Hollywood has nothing better to offer than living happily ever after, glossing over the fact that no one lives forever.
The biblical heroes, on the other hand, are men and women of faith looking for a city that is not of this world. For them, a good death is a fitting end to a good life, not merely an unpleasant and unfortunate reality. Yes, death is the last enemy, but it’s an enemy whose power is limited and who can be overcome. A good death is not a contradiction in terms, and this passage in the book of Genesis is about 2 good deaths: those of Jacob and Joseph.
Yet this story is not simply about death; it’s more precisely about death and burial. There is more to death than dying, Jacob and Joseph did not merely die well in the sense that they died comfortably at a good old age surrounded by loving caregivers. They died well in the sense of dying in FAITH, knowing that their death was not the end of the REAL story of their lives.
For Jacob and Joseph, the end of their life on earth was merely the closing of one volume that leads into a new and much better sequel! And this has profound insights for all of us, because we all die - that is - unless the Lord returns first!
Generations before us prepared people for the inevitable - but in our culture we hide from death - as if we can escape its power by denying its reality. But in contrast the Bible shows us how to overcome death’s power by embracing its reality in the light of the greater power and purpose of the Living God.
Well Jacob lived to a ripe old age with his mind intact. He was surrounded by his family who were all at peace with one another. He saw his children’s children and passed on his blessing. Now he was ready to go, and once more reiterated his instructions that he should be buried in the cave of Machpelah with Abraham, Isaac, and Sarah.
Isn’t it ironic that in death Jacob chose to lie with his unloved wife, Leah, as well as his grandfather, Abraham and Isaac, while his beloved wife, Rachel lay buried elsewhere on the road to Ephrath?
So let’s dig into this final chapter of Genesis.
Vs 1-3 - “Joseph threw himself on his father and wept over him and kissed him. Then Joseph directed the physicians in his service to embalm his father Israel. So the physicians embalmed him, taking a full forty days, for that was the time required for embalming. And the Egyptians mourned for him seventy days.”
The whole process of preserving the body and embalming took 40 days. Then we’re told here that evidently ALL of Egypt wept for this guy for 70 days. Now a royal mourning in that culture would go on for 72 days. So this is a real indication of the appreciation that really the entire land of Egypt had for Joseph and his father.
Well, then in vs. 4...
Vs. 4-10 - “When the days of mourning had passed, Joseph said to Pharaoh’s court, “If I have found favor in your eyes, speak to Pharaoh for me. Tell him, ‘My father made me swear an oath and said, “I am about to die; bury me in the tomb I dug for myself in the land of Canaan.” Now let me go up and bury my father; then I will return.’”
Pharaoh said, “Go up and bury your father, as he made you swear to do.”
So Joseph went up to bury his father. All Pharaoh’s officials accompanied him—the dignitaries of his court and all the dignitaries of Egypt— besides all the members of Joseph’s household and his brothers and those belonging to his father’s household. Only their children and their flocks and herds were left in Goshen. Chariots and horsemen also went up with him. It was a very large company.
When they reached the threshing floor of Atad, near the Jordan, they lamented loudly and bitterly; and there Joseph observed a seven-day period of mourning for his father.”
I wonder if, therapeutically, that these people weren't really more in touch with how to say good-by to their loved ones than we are? Think about it, we tend to have a funeral in what, 2 or 3 days after the death of an individual, and of course there’s great crying during that period of time, but then the friends leave and the family leaves and you're just sorta left there by yourself - “Well, now what,” right?
Isn’t it interesting how, in this culture, they seemed to have a REAL understanding of how important it was to get those emotions out, and not only to get them out, but to be very expressive in doing that.
People that study these things warn us that suppression of grief can lead to all kinds of emotional issues, even physical issues. And so these things can be very difficult to heal.
And so these guys really had a grip on this process and I read in one commentary of Dr. Warren Wiersbe, that he knows of some drive through mortuaries that exist in the country today, where you can actually drive up and, ya know, never get out of the car - view the body and sign the guestbook just like that. So what a contrast we’ve got from the far reaches of what we do today to what they did back then.
So we have to wonder, how many of our ills are really brought forth from the lack of properly understanding the grieving process??
So, they’ve already cried for the guy 70 days, and they tack yet another week onto that...
Vs. 11-18 - “When the Canaanites who lived there saw the mourning at the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “The Egyptians are holding a solemn ceremony of mourning.” That is why that place near the Jordan is called Abel Mizraim. So Jacob’s sons did as he had commanded them: They carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre,which Abraham had bought along with the field as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite.
After burying his father, Joseph returned to Egypt, together with his brothers and all the others who had gone with him to bury his father.
When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.
His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.”
They probably made all this up, right. Doesn’t it sound made up? No doubt they were still struggling with guilt, I’m sure they felt bad. Many times what comes very natural to us in the flesh with the passing of someone we know is we become filled with and captured by what we did or didn’t do concerning them, there’s that regret that comes in that’s very natural, right?
But I think here though, this is just a classic example of being forgiven and not really having the assurance that you are in fact forgiven.
I think as Christians we really struggle with that, and I think that’s what John dealt with in 1 John 1:9 - “If we can confess our sin God is faithful and just to forgive our sin...”
But then he goes on to say 1 John 3:20 - “Though our hearts condemns us, God does not condemn us.”
I can be forgiven before God, and yet, because of a weak conscience, I can feel like - “I’m not so sure if I’m really saved or not, I’m not so sure God has really forgiven me of this.” And I think this is what these guys are struggling with.
You’ll notice that Joseph wept. No doubt in part because they really didn’t believe his character. Ya gotta wonder, was Joseph crying because - “Come on guys, do you honestly think that’s the person I am? That my forgiveness was bogus...”
And I wonder if our heavenly Joseph doesn’t weep when WE question our forgiveness? “I’ve given you my blood, I’ve given you my word, I’ve given you my SON! You are forgiven!”
Ya know, John says in 1 John 5:13 - “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may KNOW that you have eternal life.”
Join us next week as we continue with the final chapter in the book of Genesis. Blessings to you all.